Carma

33 Days of Truth: Day 19

Carma

This post is a personal reflection I am sharing specifically for anyone careening out of control with the level of stress in their life and/or heading down a dead end road. Or who have been there done that. I certainly have.

My story as such entwines with experiences of my first few cars, so I’ll weave the two together and share what I learned in a crash course on “carma”.

I got my first car when I finished high school. It was a graduation gift from my mom, and the various family and friends that pooled their money together to help her pay for it. A beautiful, light blue Toyota Corolla. An older model, used, but to me it was perfect. 

Walking into the backyard with key in hand to the big reveal was one of the best moments of my young life. My family did not have much money growing up, so receiving a car was a big deal and I knew it. I felt so incredibly loved, and humbled to be given such a gift; not just the wheels, but also the freedom it brought. 

I just barely had my drivers license. It was still intimidating to drive. But I would go out and sit in the front seat, parked there in the driveway, and relish every bit of it: the smell, the soft seats, listening to music on the radio. I would swell with pride, and the empowered feeling of having my own car. 

That car was my ticket out of a small town and onward to big plans of higher education and a dream career in film. It got me down from Washington state to Southern California, where Hollywood beckoned me.

Since I did not feel particularly comfortable behind the wheel yet, my older brother helped with the move, and drove most of the way. For my entire first year in SoCal, I avoided all the freeways. Which was quite a feat, given that freeways there are the way to get anywhere farther than a few miles. I was terrified of them though, so would always ask for directions via surface streets. People thought I was nuts. Eventually, I found my groove, and a decade of commuting in the greater Los Angeles area began. 

I started junior college, and commuted between home, work and school. The feeling I had about my car on graduation day never waned. I was in love with it. Then one sunny afternoon, after coming out of my math lab (that’s math, no meth), I walked through the campus parking lot, spotted my own car in the sea of student vehicles, and felt a jolt of happiness and appreciation. Yay, car! 

Within ten minutes of that moment, “yay” car would be “bye” car. I had my first big accident as I pulled out of the lot. My car was totaled.

It was a weird moment. To my right was a blind curve, and I was hyper aware of potential traffic flying around it. That sketchy side absorbed all of my attention, so that I never saw the dark blue Mercedes in the shadows, coming across the stop light down over to the left. Blam-o!

If I hadn’t sped across the road so fast, wary of that blind right-hand corner, the Mercedes would have hit my driver side. Instead, I was far enough out that it hit the passenger door. The door got pounded in. The back tire and axel were ruined. 

Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured. The other car was full of old ladies (a Mercedes of old ladies, lol), and one complained about a small bruise on her arm. But geez, she was elderly and bruised like a peach. She was fine.

I thought I was fine, too, until a month later when I developed neck and shoulder tension due to the impact that caused misalignment. It became part of chronic issues which took a long time to straighten out.

My car was toast. I had to sign it over to my insurance company at an impound yard, and I bawled my eyes when I left it there. I felt kind of angry and betrayed by life for having my beloved car taken away from me. I was happy with it and deeply appreciative and enjoyed every ounce of that thing… and then it was gone. Poof! Why the heck did that accident have to happen?

I tried to imagine it was all for some higher purpose and life was mysteriously looking out for me in some way. I didn’t actually believe it. Something permanently changed in me when I lost that car. It was definitely a trust wound-inducing experience. 

I applied the funds from my insurance company to get another used car, an old Ford that turned out to have problems right out of the gate. Problems that the sales guy conveniently forgot to tell me about. Great. 

Although the Ford took me on many adventures, it was a love-hate relationship the whole time. There was always something wrong with it, something new to fix. Back to back repairs. It would do stuff like die on me in an intersection. (Although that happened right across from an auto shop that also towed. Hey! Life was still looking out for me…)

Crappy car notwithstanding, I headed into my last year at junior college riding high. It was around this time that I broke through my barriers to overcoming shyness, and I was feeling socially confident and outgoing as I had never been before. 

That fall semester I got swept up in a whirlwind of activity. Not only was I going to school full time, but I also worked every weekday afternoon, interned at a small indie production company, and served as president of the college film club. 

As exhilarating as it was to be so involved and making new connection, as an active student in my planned career path of filmmaking, it was also a crazy wild pace that caught up with me fast.

I was doing way, way too much. I was going nonstop. I was running on fumes, not sleeping nearly enough and hardly eating because I was too busy rushing around from one thing to the next. There was barely any time to breathe and it manifested for me literally. Tense chest, shallow respiration. I was a tightly wound ball of doing. I forgot how to be. 

I got to a point of having zero energy and began experiencing heart palpitations, which landed me in the emergency room. All my vitals were normal, but I was completely overworked and had exhausted my body with the stress. I ran myself into the ground. That experience sent me into tailspin that took years to recover from. 

As I said, I couldn’t breathe. And I couldn’t physically relax. Maybe the accident played a role, messing up my body and then aggravating that through my chaotic lifestyle. 

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, after getting into the ER. But, some years later, I got myself into another, similar pickle. 

When the Ford finally gave up for good, grinding to a crunchy metal halt at the curb outside my house, I borrowed money from my grandparents to buy another Corolla (yay!) from Carmax (great experience, highly recommended). 

I took off the “x” on the company’s sticker so that my bumper said “Carma”, which I thought was funny. Turns out that with that vehicle I would face my own personal karma: the repercussions of heading too far down a dead end road, a bumpy, rough path full of ruts. 

I worked in an office in downtown LA. I was going nowhere there and was absolutely miserable. I didn’t know how to get out of it, and didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I’ve talked about this a bit already in my 33 Days of Truth challenge. To some, the kind of thing I was going through at the time would have been a major red flag to change up their lives. To others, like myself back then, it was the kind of dark pit; I fell into it without a visible exit. I felt very stuck. 

This stuck-ness kept up until I had not one but two car accidents, within two months of one another. It took both to do it, yet they effectively jolted me awake to what I was doing to myself by staying in my unhappy situation.

The night before the first accident, I had a dream that I was careening out of control in the office parking garage. Upon waking, I interpreted it as a symbolic premonition, a signal to pay better attention. It would have been nice to just glean that insightful lesson from the dream, however life decided some real hands-on learning was in order.

The accident was embarrassingly my fault. I was distracted for a the teeniest moment by my phone (this was way back when it was still legal to look at them while driving), and I didn’t see the car in front of me stop abruptly to parallel park on the street. I suddenly looked up to see its bumper hurtling towards me (or rather, me towards it), and I panicked, accidentally pressing the accelerator instead of the brakes. Oops. 

I carpooled with a coworker while the repairs were done. Then, mere weeks after getting it back all fixed up, I was in the second accident. It was a weird moment. I was hyper aware of all the vehicles behind me, full aware of how easily and quickly someone could get distracted and cause an accident, as I myself had done.

Merging onto the freeway on my way home from work, I saw the backed up line of cars ahead and deliberately slowed down in advance, gently tapping my brakes to signal the other cars behind me. Despite my efforts to drive for everyone on the road, someone behind the car behind me was responsible for the wreck we all got in. They rear ended a big van, which was then sent slamming into my trunk. Nice little domino effect.

I pulled up to a safe stopping point, and immediately called a family member, who thought I was telling them about an accident that happened hours previously. I was that calm. Getting a little too used to it!

As I proceeded in dealing with yet another totaled car, finding a replacement, and going on about my life, I had a sense of receiving a profound message. I didn’t take it for granted that it was external physical events and mere coincidence. I felt the accidents were much more than that. The vision I was sent in my sleeping dream was a signal to me, but I needed a big hit in my waking life in order to make it clear enough to not ignore.

I got the message. Stop going this way. I didn’t know how I would change directions. I just knew I had to change. 

It took time. And many small steps. But I changed.

The details of all these accidents are rather superfluous, however I wanted to go back and walk through each one, to point out how influential they were in leading me into a bad place, and helping me get out of it, too.

Cars continued for a long while to represent freedom and wellbeing for me. The replacement I got after that final accident lasted for nine years without incident. Perhaps I became a better, more experienced driver; perhaps finally moving out of LA traffic made the difference; but also, perhaps, I shifted my approach to life, by ceasing to perpetuate the habits and unhappy situations that were dramatically wrecking my world.

It was a big deal when I sold my car before moving to the island of Maui. It was very much an act of trusting life to take care of me. I had no idea how or when I could afford another vehicle. Yet when the time came that I needed it most, one showed up. I’m actually about to sell my island car as I prepare to move back to the mainland. More trust. More letting go…

I no longer identify with my car as I once did. I’ve learned to put less attachment into the things I have, like a vehicle, focusing instead on the kinds of experience I’m creating. And in doing so, I’ve broken the cycle and released myself from carma.

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